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WHITE PAPER
The Value of Managed
Word-of-Mouth Programs
Matt McGlinn
Seth Wylie
Director, Analytics
Analyst
BzzAgent, Inc.
273 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02210
P. 617.451.2280
F. 617.451.9922
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.
You are free to copy and distribute this work under certain conditions (see final page)
BzzAgent (CC) 2005
1
WHITE PAPER
The Value of Managed
Word-of-Mouth Programs
Introduction
W
ord-of-Mouth (WOM) has grown in
In 2005, Dr. Walter Carl, Assistant Professor of
popularity over the past several years as
Communication
Studies
at
Northeastern
a marketing and research medium. Marketers
University, approached BzzAgent, a WOM
seeking to find new methods for reaching
marketing and research firm, about conducting
customers and communicating with them have
a study of WOM marketing and issues around
wondered if word-of-mouth could provide a
the rising industry.
potential solution to the dwindling return of
among other topics, differences in behavior and
traditional marketing platforms.
results between organized WOM programs and
Dr. Carl investigated,
naturally occurring WOM.
Since the beginning of organized marketing
programs, marketers viewed word-of-mouth as
Over 1,000 BzzAgents and an additional
an incredibly valuable, yet uncontrollable,
‘convenience
result of effective marketing practices. Many
participated in the study, counting their social
marketers have implemented plans to “fool”
interactions (any social contact) and word-of-
WOM into occurring, seeding the marketplace
mouth episodes (interactions that included
with shills (paid actors talking up products and
word-of-mouth about a product or service)
services).
over the course of one week.
They found the results effective but
sample’
of
non-BzzAgents
Each study
extremely risky, since consumers didn’t like
participant submitted these counts, as well as
being deceived.
details of three of the word-of-mouth episodes,
to Dr. Carl for analysis.
In recent years, a number of companies have
formed, seeking to harness the power of
Walter Carl’s 2006 paper, “What’s All the Buzz
authentic
About?”
WOM.
By
organizing
real
(accepted
for
publication
in
consumers, they train them to share their
Management Communication Quarterly) analyzes
honest opinions more effectively.
To date,
the results in light of questions about whether
many studies have explored patterns of WOM,
WOM volunteers create WOM more effectively
but few have focused on the impact of
or have an impact on the purity of the medium.
organizing the medium.
Ultimately, he discovered that participants in
managed WOM programs generated more
WOM than their peers without artificially
‘manufacturing’ it.
BzzAgent (CC) 2005
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The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth Programs
Managed WOM Volunteers Spread More WOM
At its core, managed WOM theory asserts that it helps accelerate and augment naturally-occurring
WOM.
Can organized WOM volunteers share natural WOM that delivers more value in the
marketplace?
Key Findings
Individuals who choose to participate in managed WOM programs are more active socially and
spread more WOM. They are also more likely to make a recommendation in a WOM episode.
Notably, these people are not specially selected from the public at large, nor were the study
participants hand-picked from the BzzAgent population. The WOM volunteers simply spread
significantly more Bzz than the average person.
How We Know
volunteers’
(BzzAgents)
interactions were 117% more likely to
include WOM. (29% of the volunteers’
interactions included WOM, compared
to 14% among the convenience
sample.)1
ƒ The volunteers had 30% more social
interactions and 97% more WOM
episodes than their peers.
ƒ WOM volunteers were more likely
than
their
peers
to
include
recommendations in their WOM. In
everyday WOM (outside of a WOM
program), the volunteers made 71% of
recommendations, compared to 43%
among their peers. When WOM was
part of a WOM program, the
volunteers
made
88%
of
recommendations.
Figure 1:
WOM Episodes and Social Interactions
WOM Episodes
Non-WOM Social Interactions
160
Number of Social Interactions
ƒ WOM
140
120
100
80
60
40
20
0
WOM
Convenience
Volunteers
Sample
1 Based
on data from college-educated 18-29 year-olds, since they made up the non-BzzAgent
convenience sample. Percentages rounded to the nearest whole integer.
BzzAgent (CC) 2005
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The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth Programs
Managed WOM Travels Along Natural WOM Channels
Managed WOM programs must take care to only augment organic WOM, rather than artificially produce
it, since WOM’s naturalness produces its credibility. Do WOM campaigns alter the natural medium, or
can they harness the force of WOM without adjusting its core components? Dr. Carl set out to determine
if organized WOM differs from or drowns out naturally occurring WOM.
Key Findings
Carl’s findings indicate that managed WOM does not inundate social networks with Bzz or
greater-than-average amounts of planned WOM episodes. WOM volunteers do not talk about
program-related products and services so much that this marketing affiliation undermines their
social relationships. Indeed, WOM marketing companies and their clients have every reason to
keep these social ties natural and unadulterated; they are the networks upon which organic,
honest, and effective WOM travels.
How We Know
WOM among volunteers, compared to WOM among the convenience sample:
ƒ Was equally likely to be spontaneous,
whether or not that WOM was related
to a managed WOM marketing
program.
ƒ Occurred via the same media. Nearly
80% of WOM was face-to-face for
volunteers and for the convenience
sample.
ƒ Passed along only slightly more positive
opinions for
were part
campaign.
reported less
their peers.2
products and services that
of a managed WOM
In fact, the volunteers
positive WOM overall than
Moreover, WOM for a marketing campaign did not overwhelm naturally-occurring WOM. 84%
of volunteers’ WOM was not linked to a WOM program, and this did not change significantly
if they were enrolled in a program during the study.
2
WOM volunteers tended to talk more positively about the programs’ products and services, which
seems to raise an ethical flag. Several factors, however, indicate that this concern is, at most, dubious.
Firstly, although WOM volunteers may feel obligated to talk positively about a product that they have
been given, they also choose to receive products that already interest them. Secondly, as in the case of
BzzAgent, Inc., the marketing organization can make an effort to filter out substandard products.
Thirdly, the convenience sample actually reported more positive WOM, “so the presence of positive talk
among Agents may not be much of a concern at all,” Carl writes. Rather, he points out that manifestly
honest talk, regardless of content, is supremely important to sustain the natural relationships that
benefit both WOM volunteers and WOM marketers.
BzzAgent (CC) 2005
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The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth Programs
Conclusion
A
s managed WOM programs come to
in managed programs with their normal
occupy a key position in the marketing
communications.
Additionally, this study
landscape, many corporations are seeking to
shows that WOM volunteers generate more
engage with the medium.
WOM
As a result, the
overall,
demonstrating
can
harness
that
natural
WOM
science of managed WOM continues to forge
marketers
WOM,
ahead, asking key questions about WOM
accelerating and augmenting it. As Dr. Carl
programs’ effectiveness and ability to harness
concludes, stressing the most valuable insight
WOM while maintaining its purity.
that his study provides, “effective WOM and
buzz marketing is not rooted in the marketing
Through his juxtaposition of WOM volunteers
and their peers, Dr. Carl establishes that
managed WOM is not manufactured or greatly
different from everyday WOM. Rather, WOM
of a particular brand, product or service, but
rather is based in the everyday relationships
and conversations of people discussing other
matters.”
volunteers naturally interface their involvement
Work Cited
ƒ Carl, Walter J. ʺWhatʹs All the Buzz About?: Everyday Communication and the Relational Basis of
Word-of-Mouth and Buzz Marketing Practices.ʺ Management Communication Quarterly 19 (2006).
Contact
ƒ Matt McGlinn
BzzAgent, Inc.
273 Summer Street
4th Floor
Boston, MA 02210
P: 617.451.2280
mattm@bzzagent.com
ƒ Walter J. Carl, Ph.D.
Department of Communication Studies
101 Lake Hall
Northeastern University
Boston, MA 02115
P: 617.373.4075
w.carl@neu.edu
BzzAgent (CC) 2005
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The Value of Managed Word-of-Mouth Programs
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